Salt, Sodium, and Electrolytes?

Wednesday Mar 24, 2010

This post is a follow up to my previous post about the adequate consumption of water.  It was brought up that salt is also necessary for fluid balance.  In this post I would like to clear the confusion over the salt, sodium, and electrolytes – and fluid balance.

Salt, sodium, and electrolytes – all basically mean the same thing.  Salt consists of sodium and chloride ions connected in a bond (sodium chloride), when dissolved in water they separate into sodium and chloride ions.  Electrolytes are basically ions in a liquid.  Sodium is a type of an electrolyte. Potassium, chloride, and calcium ions are other examples of electrolytes.  Salt/sodium/electrolytes are necessary to maintain a variety of critical functions in the body.  Overconsumption of salt (sodium or electrolytes) can increase the risk of health problems, such as high blood pressure.

To maintain fluid balance, the body needs more than just water.  Electrolytes such as sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium ions (as well as other small molecules) all play an important role in fluid balance.  We must consume electrolytes in food and beverages in order to maintain fluid balance on a daily basis.

Exercise increases the loss of water and electrolytes from the body, especially sodium (the loss of the other electrolytes is very low).  The goal of drinking fluids during exercise is to: maintain plasma and electrolyte volume, prevent abnormal elevation in heart rate and core body temperature, as well as to provide “fuel” to the working muscles.

During an endurance exercise, fluid intake should match or exceed sweat loss (especially in hot environments). During an exercise lasting longer than one hour fluids containing both carbohydrates and electrolytes should be consumed.  The carbohydrates provide energy during exercise, while the sodium replaces lost electrolytes.

After an exercise, the goal of rehydration is to replace the water and electrolytes lost that occurred during the exercise.  In general, athletes can replace water and electrolytes by consuming adequate water and food throughout the recovery period.

Sodium improves fluid retention in the body, while carbohydrates enhance intestinal uptake of sodium and water and help replace muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates in the body).

One way to increase sodium and fluid intakes is to use a carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink before, during, and after exercise.  These beverages provide low amounts of sodium, increase total fluid intake, and provide additional energy in the form of carbohydrates.

I hope I was able to make the “salt/sodium/electrolyte” functionality more clear, as well as explain how it relates to fluid balance.  If you have any further comments or questions, please let me know! 🙂

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Thank you for the useful information! This cleared out a few questions that I had about Salt/Sodium/Electrolytes. You have a good way of using your descriptive skills to explain these processes for non-scientific people 😉

March 25th, 2010 | 10:07 am
medical assistant:

nice post. thanks.

April 11th, 2010 | 7:44 am

Great post! I really love your nice blog! I also commented at your other post that I thought was awesome.

May 8th, 2010 | 8:11 am
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